Will Waymo Have Near Enough Robotaxis for This City?

robotaxi company waymo
Will Waymo Have Enough Robotaxis for This City?picture alliance - Getty Images
  • Waymo lets everyone in San Francisco off the waiting list, which at one point included some 300,000 people, with the app now available to be downloaded by all.

  • Robotaxi services have seen some controversy since launching commercial operations in San Francisco in the summer of 2023, and have been the targets of vandalism.

  • Waymo is currently working on expanding operations in Los Angeles and Austin, while profitable operations remain a longer-term goal.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you probably see autonomous vehicles every day and are generally "over" them.

But hailing one of Waymo's robotaxis hasn't been as simple as clicking a button in an app, as the service has been opening up to users in small increments, with Waymo initially letting only its "trusted testers" ride in its Jaguar I-Pace cars.


In fact, the company has had a waiting list of some 300,000 people just in San Francisco alone. This number actually represents over a quarter of the city's population, as Waymo points out, and it has been letting people join its service in groups over time since launching commercial operations in the city in August 2023.

But now Waymo is actually open to everyone in San Francisco, or at least everyone who has a smartphone and the Waymo app. (Unfortunately, you still can't hail one of these by flagging it down on the street, or by yelling "Taxi!" like in a vintage movie from the 1990s).

However, Waymo's robotaxis cannot quite take you all over the Bay Area. Rides are still confined to surface streets in the city, so you won't be able to get from the center of the city to Alameda where the "nuclear wessels" are kept, also known as The Island that Rust Forgot.

"In a recent survey, over half of our riders said they used Waymo in the past couple of months to or from medical appointments, highlighting the value of personal space during these trips. Additionally, 36% of our SF riders used Waymo to connect to other forms of transit, like BART or Muni," the company noted.

Where else can you try one of these newfangled robotaxis?

Waymo has also launched operations in Phoenix, where they also deliver food via Uber Eats, and is currently making progress in scaling up its service in parts of Los Angeles. The company is also keen to launch its robotaxis in Tesla's new hometown of Austin, Texas, to best the EV maker in that particular race, though Waymo's service isn't open there just yet.

waymo robotaxis
Waymo has relied on specially equipped the Jaguar I-Pace and Chrysler Pacifica vehicles.Waymo

When it comes to San Francisco, robotaxis have now seen their fair share of controversy since Waymo and Cruise were permitted to begin commercial operations last summer. Adding to complaints from first responders, robotaxis haven't been exactly welcomed by all city residents, and have at times been the targets of vandalism.

Robotaxi services have also faced scrutiny for how many people they actually take to operate and how much they cost once everything is taken into account, as opposed to ride-hailing services like Uber that use private drivers with their own cars.

Still, Waymo points to its safety record in making a pitch to potential users, as well as its green cred.

"Over the 3.8+ million rider-only miles we've driven in San Francisco through the end of March, the Waymo Driver was involved in 17 fewer crashes with injuries and 12 fewer police-reportable crashes compared to human drivers," the company says.

But Waymo's competitors, including old-fashioned taxis and the various ride-hailing app drivers, still eclipse it in transparent numbers. Waymo's entire fleet in San Francisco numbers just around 300 vehicles, while several hundred other Waymo cars operate in Phoenix and Los Angeles. (Of course, not all 300 are on the road in the city all of the time).

Right now its fleet is relatively small by Bay Area ride-hailing app standards, but Waymo has not indicated that it could experience available car shortages now that the app is open to all in the city, as demand for other ride-hailing services remains relatively steady.

But it will be interesting to see just where robotaxi demand can reach in the coming months and years, and whether regular riders who use apps with human drivers may opt to switch to robotaxis.

Will robotaxis be able to edge out human ride-hailing drivers by the end of the decade, if at all, or will this technology remain too expensive for the foreseeable future? Let us know what you think in the comments below.